Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski today grilled U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on what the senator called conflicting statements on whether the agency's leader would prefer to curb greenhouse gas emissions using regulations or legislation.
Speaking today to the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Murkowski asked Jackson to clarify whether she wanted Congress to move forward with a comprehensive energy and climate bill or whether agency rules were the best approach.
Murkowski cited previous quotes from Jackson where she said that EPA regulations and congressional action could go hand in hand. "This is not an either/or moment, it's a both/and moment," Murkowski quoted Jackson as saying. She also quoted her saying, "I absolutely prefer that the Senate take action."
Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is leading an effort in the Senate to overturn EPA's "endangerment" finding -- a determination that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare that allows the agency to move forward with climate regulations. The first set of those rules is expected out later this month.
"I'm not sure whether you agree with me that -- and I think the president as well -- that new legislation is the best way to deal with climate change or whether it should be EPA regulation," Murkowski said.
But Jackson continued to insist that the approaches can be complementary.
"I certainly stand behind the president's call for comprehensive energy legislation that puts a price on carbon, and I believe that's absolutely the best way, as you've said, to move our country into a clean energy future, I think it's critical," Jackson replied. "And I also think that it's not an either/or moment.
"Even legislation that's currently passed the House, that's the standard we have right now, envisions that EPA will have certain roles to play," Jackson added. "And there is lots of regulatory work that the EPA can do that is entirely consistent with new legislation in the future."
That was not enough to satisfy Murkowski.
"I don't know that I'm any more clear based on your statement this morning as to whether or not you think it should be the Congress and those of us that are elected by our constituents and accountable to them to enact and advance climate policy," she told Jackson.
Jackson hints at new permitting thresholds
Pressed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Jackson offered additional details about EPA's plans to gradually phase in climate rules for industrial sources.
Over the next two years, stationary sources that emit less than 75,000 tons will not be subject to permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act, Jackson said. "And it would probably be at least two years before we'd look at something like say a 50,000 threshold," she added.
Last week, in response to a letter from Senate Democrats concerned about the reach of EPA's climate rules, Jackson said that the agency is also considering "substantially" raising the thresholds in its proposed "tailoring" rule to exempt more facilities from requirements that they minimize their greenhouse gas emissions (E&E Daily, Feb. 23).
The agency's draft rule proposed to tailor the Clean Air Act's permitting requirements to require greenhouse gas permits from sources that emit more than 25,000 tons annually. The final rule is expected to be finalized later this month and Jackson said the agency has not yet determined the number.
Jackson's letter also said that EPA will begin to phase in permitting requirements and regulating large stationary sources of greenhouse gases in early 2011, when only facilities that must already apply for Clean Air Act permits for other pollutants will need to address those emissions. Fewer than 400 facilities would be subject to those requirements, she said. The agency will begin to require permits from other large sources in the latter half of 2011.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the subcommittee, welcomed further explanation about the agency's regulatory strategy.
"As EPA explains its plans, I believe my colleagues will increasingly realize that the agency is proceeding in a deliberate and legally defensible fashion, beginning with facilities already subject to regulation, tackling only the largest polluters at this time and developing a long-term approach to emissions that is as cost effective and flexible as the law permits," Feinstein said.
She added that she thinks it is the "wrong approach" for members of Congress to attempt to strip EPA of its regulatory authority. "The alternative to EPA proceeding, in my view, is that the Congress passes a new law, and thus far, we have refused or been unable, whichever it is, to do so," Feinstein said. "Therefore, EPA's mandate given to it by the [U.S. Supreme] Court in the [Massachusetts v. EPA] case, I think, remains exceedingly clear."
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the subcommittee, disagreed.
"I am ready to buy some insurance from climate change. I think it's a problem and we need to deal with it," Alexander said.
However, he added, "I support efforts in the Congress to make that the responsibility of Congress to deal with rather than the EPA because I think the current law doesn't give EPA the appropriate flexibility to deal with it, and I think it's of such major importance it ought to be done by members of Congress rather than an agency."